Fixing it

Notwithstanding the [late] reckoning with our very own special coup, the one we think we dodged and the very one over which Our Media is fascinated by exactly all the wrong details; the battle between Chicago and lake Michigan; and the new Gilded Age space flights for plutocrat tourists, the economy seems to have magically withstood a pandemic (Narrator: It’s not magic):

Initial unemployment claims came in at 360,000 for the week ending July 10, below the previous week’s revised read of 386,000. That reading matched the consensus forecast among economists, according to Bloomberg.

The decline in the seasonally adjusted number resumes the overall downward trend of the volatile data series after an unexpected rise in initial claims last week. The Labor Department noted that this marks a new pandemic-era low.

While the number of Americans newly filing for unemployment benefits tends to bounce around from week to week, it’s been on a general downward trend after spiking to record-shattering numbers amid the early days of the pandemic last spring. The return to that downward trend matches other data suggesting a steadily recovering labor market.

360K is still a very many lot of people, and yet you ask: after years of making sure our billionaires had enough nest eggs to color-coordinate their space suits, how was it possible to get through a year of very limited economic activity and still be able browse and sniff at the want ads and generally avoid most of the fascist tendencies on offer? Give. People. Money.

CARES and PPP run themselves out by design, which is helping people stay afloat. This is why we’re longing for vacations instead of standing in breadlines. And the infrastructure bill will bring more of this – not gifts and not luxuries – but investments in people and how we live, with recommendations for new arrangements for different needs that WE have made absolutely necessary (see Chicago example above and read the history). Move the monuments. Buy the trains. Pay the carpenters, or become one. As legend has it, the profession has a storied past.

Love for Trees

No, not an exchange but these two actually work together in Jean Giono‘s The Man Who Planted Trees (L’homme qui plantait de arbes) originally published in 1954. Giono (pronounced like “ja know“) was a French author who set many stories in the region of Provence, wherefrom he hailed. In the spirit of thumbing his nose ar IP rights, he freely gave way the rights to this story as it was translated far and wide. He’s someone I first learned about from Henry Miller, who wrote about him in Books in My Life.

Here’s some of The Man Who… translated from the French by Peter Doyle.

The shepherd, who did not smoke, took out a bag and poured a pile of acorns out onto the table. He began to examine them one after another with a great deal of attention, separating the good ones from the bad. I smoked my pipe. I offered to help him, but he told me it was his own business. Indeed, seeing the care that he devoted to this job, I did not insist. This was our whole conversation. When he had in the good pile a fair number of acorns, he counted them out into packets of ten. In doing this he eliminated some more of the acorns, discarding the smaller ones and those that that showed even the slightest crack, for he examined them very closely. When he had before him one hundred perfect acorns he stopped, and we went to bed.
The company of this man brought me a feeling of peace. I asked him the next morning if I might stay and rest the whole day with him. He found that perfectly natural. Or more exactly, he gave me the impression that nothing could disturb him. This rest was not absolutely necessary to me, but I was intrigued and I wanted to find out more about this man. He let out his flock and took them to the pasture. Before leaving, he soaked in a bucket of water the little sack containing the acorns that he had so carefully chosen and counted.

I noted that he carried as a sort of walking stick an iron rod as thick as his thumb and about one and a half meters long. I set off like someone out for a stroll, following a route parallel to his. His sheep pasture lay at the bottom of a small valley. He left his flock in the charge of his dog and climbed up towards the spot where I was standing. I was afraid that he was coming to reproach me for my indiscretion, but not at all : It was his own route and he invited me to come along with him if I had nothing better to do. He continued on another two hundred meters up the hill.
Having arrived at the place he had been heading for, he begin to pound his iron rod into the ground. This made a hole in which he placed an acorn, whereupon he covered over the hole again. He was planting oak trees. I asked him if the land belonged to him. He answered no. Did he know whose land it was? He did not know. He supposed that it was communal land, or perhaps it belonged to someone who did not care about it. He himself did not care to know who the owners were. In this way he planted his one hundred acorns with great care.

After the noon meal, he began once more to pick over his acorns. I must have put enough insistence into my questions, because he answered them. For three years now he had been planting trees in this solitary way. He had planted one hundred thousand. Of these one hundred thousand, twenty thousand had come up. He counted on losing another half of them to rodents and to everything else that is unpredictable in the designs of Providence. That left ten thousand oaks that would grow in this place where before there was nothing.

Los Teens

Bienvenu, Hwan Yeeng and welcome to the teens.

The faster the tech wheel spins, the more screens you watch, the more rings you hear, the more scores you check… the more you find out what? Quite a bit, though much of it trivial – not as in pursuit, but ft-lbf, the volume of things you allow to get in between you and whatever idylls you once upon a time you associated with, before all these devices intervened. Remember to remember, as the man said:

If the idea that your son must become a killer as well as a provider is abhorrent to you, if you believe that death-dealing weapons should not continue to be manufactured, even if never used, then make a new world in which killing will be unnecessary. Concentrate all your energies upon that, and that alone. If you had a home which you were fond of, and it were suddenly invaded by rats, would you not set everything aside to eliminate the pest? War is the greatest plague that civilized man has to contend with. And what has he done in all these thousands of years to grapple with the problem? Nothing, really. With the passage of time he has devoted increasing effort, ingenuity and money towards aggrandizing the horrors of war, as though pretending to himself that if war became too horrible it might cease of itself.

But the faster the wheel spins, the slower the revelations fly: because illumination is but one-speeded. A perfect vehicle for the flatlands, but nice for coasting in the mountains, too. Cover up with blanket endorsements and pretend you are yourself a signal, giving off indications, accepting messages, reacting to your own commands, creating a personal sense of application. Just yours. And it’s okay if its rhymes. Or is happy. Or new. Or even takes a year. Or five.

All you ever have or can give is a little bit of time, anyway. And now 1-1-11. Cut the feed. Nourish instead.

Oh La Vache! and other Mercurial Inunctions


And if you should require more than a thousand, maybe check out The Cosmological Eye by H. Miller.

I should say that ever since the dawn of history–all through
the great civilizations, that is to say–we have been living like lice.
Once every thousand years or so a man arises who is not a louse–
and then there is even more hell to pay. When a MAN appears
he seems to get a stranglehold on the world which it takes cen-
turies to break. The sane people are cunning enough to find these
men “psychopathic.” These sane ones seem to be more interested
in the technique of the stranglehold than in applying it. That’s a
curious phenomenon, one that puzzles me, to be frank. It’s like
learning the art of wrestling in order to have the pleasure of letting
someone pin you to the mat.

What do I mean to infer? Just this–that art, the art of living,
involves the act of creation. The work of art is nothing. It is only
the tangible, visible evidence of a way of life, which, if it is not
crazy is certainly different from the accepted way of life. The dif-
ference lies in the act, in the assertion of a will, and individuality.
For the artist to attach himself to his work, or identify himself
with it, is suicidal. An artist should be able not only to spit on his
predecessor’s art, or on all works of art, but on his own too. He
should be able to be an artist all the time, and finally not be an
artist at all, but a piece of art.

Master and Slave

The Time of the Assassins is Henry Miller’s study of Rimbaud, but in it he loops in all manner of late-nineteenth century tragic figure – Van Gogh, Dostoevsky, Gogol – he even mentions Jesus Christ in a way that completely makes sense. He’s talking about poetry, genius, death and magic. From page 96:

Always it is some invisible wand, some magic star, which beckons, and then the old wisdom, the old magic, is done for. Death and transfiguration, that is the eternal song. Some seek the death they choose, whether of form, body, wisdom or soul, directly; others approach it deviously. Some accentuate the drama by disappearing from the face of the earth, leaving no clues, no traces; others make their life an even more inspiring spectacle than the confession which is their work. Rimbaud drew his death out woefully. he spread his ruin all about him, so that none could fail to comprehend the utter futility of his flight. Anywhere, out of the world! That is the cry of those for whom life no longer has any meaning. Rimbaud discovered the true world as a child; he tried to proclaim it as a youth; he betrayed it as a man. Forbidden access to the world of love, all his endowments were in vain. His hell did not go deep enough, he roasted in the vestibule. It was too brief a period, this season, as we know, because the rest of his life becomes a purgatory. Did he lack the courage to swim the deep? We do not know. We know only that he surrenders his treasure – as if it were the burden. But the guilt which he suffers from no man escapes, not even those who are born in the light. His failure seems stupendous, though it brought him through to victory. But it is not Rimbaud who triumphs, it is the unquenchable spirit that was within him. As Victor Hugo said: ‘Angel is the only word in the language that cannot be worn out.”

“Creation begin with painful separation from God and the creation of an independent will to the end that this separation may be overcome in a type of higher unity than that with which the process began.”* [The Mystic Will, by H.H. Brinton]

At the age of nineteen, in the very middle of his life, Rimbaud gave up the ghost. “His Muse died at his side, among his massacred dreams,” says one biographer. Nevertheless, he was a prodigy who in three years gave the impression of exhausting whole cycles of art. “It is as if he contained whole careers within himself,” said Jacques Riviere. To which Matthew Josephson adds” “Indeed literature ever since Rimbaud has been engaged in the struggle to circumvent him.” Why? Because, as the latter says, “he made poetry too dangerous.” Rimbaud himself declares, in the Season, that he “became a fabulous opera.” Opera or not, he remains fabulous – nothing less. The one side of his life is just as fabulous as the other, that is the amazing thing. Dreamer and man of action, he is both at once. It is like combining Shakespeare and Bonaparte. And now listen to his own words… “I saw that all beings are fatally attracted to happiness: action is not life, but a way of dissipating one’s strength, and enervation.” And then, as if to prove it, he plunges into the maelstrom. he crosses and recrosses Europe on foot, ships in one boat after another for foreign ports, is returned ill and penniless again and again; he takes a thousand and one jobs, learns a dozen or more languages, and, in lieu of dealing words deals in coffee, spices, ivory, skins, gold, muskets, slaves. Adventure, exploration, study; association with every type of man, race, nationality; always work, work, work, which he loathed. But above all, ennui! Always bored. Incurably bored. But what activity! What a wealth of experiences! And what emptiness!

Read the whole thing; buy extra copies for your friends.


Reading some of this Time article about the high price of cheap food brought to mind some of the many, other connections to the same. You can go read that, but this has all been mainstream for quite a while now. The following is from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906):

The carcass hog was scooped out of the vat by machinery, and then it fell to the second floor, passing on the way through a wonderful machine with numerous scrapers, which adjusted themselves to the size and shape of the animal, and sent it out at the other end with nearly all of its bristles removed. It was then again strung up by machinery, and sent upon another trolley ride; this time passing between two lines of men, who sat upon a raised platform, each doing a certain single thing to the carcass as it came to him. One scraped the outside of a leg; another scraped the inside of the same leg. One with a swift stroke cut the throat; another with two swift strokes severed the head, which fell to the floor and vanished through a hole. Another made a slit down the body; a second opened the body wider; a third with a saw cut the breastbone; a fourth loosened the entrails; a fifth pulled them out – and they also slid through a hole in the floor. There were men to scrape each side and men to scrape the back; there were men to clean the carcass inside, to trim it and wash it. Looking down this room, one saw, creeping slowly, a line of dangling hogs a hundred yards in length; and for every yard there was a man, working as if a demon were after him. At the end of this hog’s progress every inch of the carcass had been gone over several times; and then it was rolled into the chilling room, where it stayed for twenty-four hours, and where a stranger might lose himself in a forest of freezing hogs.

Before the carcass was admitted here, however, it had to pass a government inspector, who sat in the doorway and felt of the glands in the neck for tuberculosis. This government inspector did not have the manner of a man who was worked to death; he was apparently not haunted by a fear that the hog might get by him before he had finished his testing. If you were a sociable person, he was quite willing to enter into conversation with you, and to explain to you the deadly nature of the ptomaines which are found in tubercular pork; and while he was talking with you you could hardly be so ungrateful as to notice that a dozen carcasses were passing him untouched. This inspector wore a blue uniform, with brass buttons, and he gave an atmosphere of authority to the scene, and, as it were, put the stamp of official approval upon the things which were done in Durham’s.

Jurgis went down the line with the rest of the visitors, staring openmouthed, lost in wonder. He had dressed hogs himself in the forest of Lithuania; but he had never expected to live to see one hog dressed by several hundred men. It was like a wonderful poem to him, and he took it all in guilelessly – even to the conspicuous signs demanding immaculate cleanliness of the employees. Jurgis was vexed when the cynical Jokubas translated these signs with sarcastic comments, offering to take them to the secret rooms where the spoiled meats went to be doctored.

The party descended to the next floor, where the various waste materials were treated. Here came the entrails, to be scraped and washed clean for sausage casings; men and women worked here in the midst of a sickening stench, which caused the visitors to hasten by, gasping. To another room came all the scraps to be “tanked,” which meant boiling and pumping off the grease to make soap and lard; below they took out the refuse, and this, too, was a region in which the visitors did not linger. In still other places men were engaged in cutting up the carcasses that had been through the chilling rooms. First there were the “splitters,” the most expert workmen in the plant, who earned as high as fifty cents an hour, and did not a thing all day except chop hogs down the middle. Then there were “cleaver men,” great giants with muscles of iron; each had two men to attend him – to slide the half carcass in front of him on the table, and hold it while he chopped it, and then turn each piece so that he might chop it once more. His cleaver had a blade about two feet long, and he never made but one cut; he made it so neatly, too, that his implement did not smite through and dull itself – there was just enough force for a perfect cut, and no more. So through various yawning holes there slipped to the floor below – to one room hams, to another forequarters, to another sides of pork. One might go down to this floor and see the pickling rooms, where the hams were put into vats, and the great smoke rooms, with their airtight iron doors. In other rooms they prepared salt pork – there were whole cellars full of it, built up in great towers to the ceiling. In yet other rooms they were putting up meats in boxes and barrels, and wrapping hams and bacon in oiled paper, sealing and labeling and sewing them. From the doors of these rooms went men with loaded trucks, to the platform where freight cars were waiting to be filled; and one went out there and realized with a start that he had come at last to the ground floor of this enormous building.

Then the party went across the street to where they did the killing of beef – where every hour they turned four or five hundred cattle into meat. Unlike the place they had left, all this work was done on one floor; and instead of there being one line of carcasses which moved to the workmen, there were fifteen or twenty lines, and the men moved from one to another of these. This made a scene of intense activity, a picture of human power wonderful to watch. It was all in one great room, like a circus amphitheater, with a gallery for visitors running over the center.

Along one side of the room ran a narrow gallery, a few feet from the floor; into which gallery the cattle were driven by men with goads which gave them electric shocks. Once crowded in here, the creatures were prisoned, each in a separate pen, by gates that shut, leaving them no room to turn around; and while they stood bellowing and plunging, over the top of the pen there leaned one of the “knockers,” armed with a sledge hammer, and watching for a chance to deal a blow. The room echoed with the thuds in quick succession, and the stamping and kicking of the steers. The instant the animal had fallen, the “knocker” passed on to another; while a second man raised a lever, and the side of the pen was raised, and the animal, still kicking and struggling, slid out to the “killing bed.” Here a man put shackles about one leg, and pressed another lever, and the body was jerked up into the air. There were fifteen or twenty such pens, and it was a matter of only a couple of minutes to knock fifteen or twenty cattle and roll them out. Then once more the gates were opened, and another lot rushed in; and so out of each pen there rolled a steady stream of carcasses, which the men upon the killing beds had to get out of the way.

The manner in which they did this was something to be seen and never forgotten. They worked with furious intensity, literally upon the run –

at a pace with which there is nothing to be compared except a football game. It was all highly specialized labor, each man having his task to do; generally this would consist of only two or three specific cuts, and he would pass down the line of fifteen or twenty carcasses, making these cuts upon each. First there came the “butcher,” to bleed them; this meant one swift stroke, so swift that you could not see it – only the flash of the knife; and before you could realize it, the man had darted on to the next line, and a stream of bright red was pouring out upon the floor. This floor was half an inch deep with blood, in spite of the best efforts of men who kept shoveling it through holes; it must have made the floor slippery, but no one could have guessed this by watching the men at work.

And to add to that, here’s also a bit of Plexus, The Rosy Crucifixion, Book Two by Henry Miller.

There remained only a few faculties the monster would never possess, but of these animal functions th emaster himself was not particualry proud. it was obvious that, if he were to recapture his peace of mind, there was only one thing to be done – destroy his precious creation! This however, he was loath to do. It had taken him twenty years to put the monster together and make him function. In th ewhole wide world there was nothing to equal the bloody idoit. Moreover he could no longer recall by what intricate, complicated and mysterious processes he had brought his labors to fruition. In every way, Picodiribibi rivaled the human being whose simulacrum he was. True, he would never be able to reproduce his own kind, but like the freaks and sports of human spawn, he would undoubtedly leave in the memory of man a disturbing haunting image.

To such a pass the great scholar had come that he almost lost his mind. Unable to destroy his invention, he racked his brain to determine how and where he might sequester him. For a time he thought of burying him in the garden, in an iron casket. he even entertained the idea of locking him up in a monastery. But fear, fear of loss, fear of damage or deterioration, paralyzed him. it was becoming more and more clear that, inasmuch as he had brought Picodiribibi into being, he would have to live with him forever. He found himself pondering how they could be buried together, secretly, when the time came. Strange thought! The idea of taking with him to the grave a creature which was not alive, and yet in many ways more alive than himself, terrified him. He was convinced that, even in the next world,  this prodigy to which he had given birth would plague him, would possibly usurp his own celestial privileges. he began to realize that, in assuming the powers of the Creator, he had robbed himself of the blessing which death confers upon even the humblest believer. He saw himself as a shade flitting forever between two worlds – and his creation pursuing him. Ever a dvout man, he now began to pray long and fervently for deliverance. On his knees he begged the Lord to intercede, to lift from his shoulders the awesome burden of responsibility which he had unthinkingly assumed. But the Almighty ignored his pleas.

Pick it up on page 410… it gets even better.

“…Nation of Lunatics”

In Henry Miller’s 1962 nonfiction opus, Stand Still Like A Hummingbird, only a few paragraphs into the introduction he begins describing some of the epithets that would need to be coined to describe his bad taste, in the event that readers found the book to be as despicable as many had found Tropic of Cancer twenty five years earlier:

The tenor of most of the them, though strongly critical of our way of life, is nevertheless strictly kosher. America is seen through the eys of an American, not a Hottentot. And Europe, which is often favorably contrasted with America, is a Europe which only an American might have eyes for.

So what, my dear compatriots? How will you label me now? Un-American? It won’t fit, I’m afraid. I’m even more American than you, only against the grain. Which, if you think a moment, serves to put me in the tradition. Nothing I have said against our way of life, our institutions, our failings, but what you will find even more forcibly expressed in Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson. Even before the turn of the century Whitman had addressed his fellow Americans thus: “You are in a fair way to create a whole nation of lunatics.”

It is true, of course, that today the whole world seems to have gone mad. But, like it or not, we are in the van, we are leading the procession. Always first and foremost, what!

The dominant theme throughout this book is the plight of the individual, which of course means the plight of society, since society is meaningless unless composed of individuals.

No things have not changed a whit since Tropic of Cancer days, unless for the worse. La vie en rose is definitely not for the artist. The artist – I employ the word only for the genuine ones – is still suspect, still regarded as a menace to society. Those who conform, who play the game, are petted and pampered. Nowhere else in the world, unless it be Soviet Russia, do these conformists receive such huge rewards, such wide recognition for their efforts.

So much for the dominant note. As for the subdominant, the thought is – don’t wait for things to change, the hour of man is now and, whether you are working at the bottom of the pile or the top, if you are a creative individual you will go on producing, come hell or high water. And this is the most you can hope to do. One has to go on believing in himself, whether recognized or not, whether heeded or not. The world may seem like hell on wheels – and we are doing our best, are we not, to make it so? – but there is always room, if only in one’s soul, to create of spot of Paradise, crazy though it may sound.

When you find you can go neither backward nor forward, when you discover that you are no longer able to stand, sit, or lie down, when your children have died of malnutrition and your aged parents have been sent to the poorhouse or the gas chamber, when you realize that you can neither write nor not write, when you are convinced that all the exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like a hummingbird. The miracle is that the honey is always right there, right under your nose, only you were to busy searching elsewhere to realize it. The worst is not death but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous.

Love your neighbor, read your Miller.

Sunday fractal convolution and wooden money

It’s hard not see this article about the American Dream in reverse as a blown-up close up of the coastline of our general, if hearty, methods of D/B/A, physically, morally, socially, practically in every respect. Just look at the pictures, or read the article, or chance it and do both. In the blighted-at-birth and now abandoned settlements somehow referred to perhaps without irony (is that still possible?) as ‘once-middle-class-exurbs’, it’s hard not to have your head pinned back by the force of the pan-out to the wider angle on our culture of ambitious slackening. It’s the art of being left bag-holding on which legends have been forged. Is there any doubt this is what these myths (dreams, American and otherwise) stand for?

Lehigh Acres, like much of Florida and many suburbs nationwide, was born with speculation in its DNA.

The area got its start in the 1950s when a Chicago pest control baron, Lee Ratner, and several partners bought thousands of acres of farmland and plotted about 100,000 lots. With Fort Myers, 15 miles to the west, developers left little room for schools, parks or even businesses.

What they sold was sun and quiet living.

The engine we are running on is powered by the engine we’re running on. It produces what it was designed to produce.

Key players in the Obama economic team beyond Geithner are also tied to Rubin or Citigroup or both, from Larry Summers, the administration’s top economic adviser, to Gary Gensler, the newly named nominee to run the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and a Treasury undersecretary in the Clinton administration. Back then, Summers and Gensler joined hands with Phil Gramm to ward off regulation of the derivative markets that have since brought the banking system to ruin. We must take it on faith that they have subsequently had judgment transplants.

Mr. Rich is being a serious joker here, yanking on our chains, such as they have not yet been repo’d. The faith in judgment transplants is as near perfect as the belief that such a local market as cited above can/will bounce back in some resemblance to its former self. It’s part of the defense mechanism to believe in the right to self-exploitation that informs the notion that such manifestations are or were a part of some dream that itself was in a some way righteous or desirable. I’ll demure to this digression on Gresham’s Law from Miller’s essay Money and How It Gets That Way from Stand Still Like a Hummingbird. Gresham’s Law roughly states that “bad money drives out good.” Miller’s context was our country’s departure from the gold standard.

For the sake of creating work, on the other hand, no such hard and fast rules were stipulated by the early nineteenth-century economists. Work and trade were kept apart in watertight compartments, although it was obvious even then, to those who made the subject a profound study, that twist it how you will, the inevitable liaison is always there, namely debt. That is one of the reasons why, under the sway of Marxian diuretic, debt is no longer regarded as a permanent element in the economic disorder, but rather as a solvent, so to speak, in the conversion of capital to labor. Countries like Germany and Italy, in as much as they refuse to adopt the Marxian diuretic, tend to increase the circuit velocity of money, in order that, as an eminent Dutch economist points out, “their currencies may drag themselves by the hair out of the quicksands of worthlessness.” However salutary these tactics may be with regard to the evaporation of the national debt in the countries just mentioned, the fact is nevertheless incontestable that the gold mentality of the world remains unaffected. With money becoming ever cheaper the price of bullion naturally rises to implement the costive condition of the call market. This the real explanation of the fact that, in Pomerania, shortly after Hilter’s advent to power, the turnip and swede crop fell off so markedly. For though it is undeniable that dry years have always had a definite adverse influence upon the price level, yet during the year in question the average rainfall was higher than that of the five years preceding Hitler’s advent. Had this not been so we should be at a loss to account or the fact that during those five preceding years brewery shares were a feature of remarkable strength and integrity.

My life is free

The title and the following are both from Henry Miller’s Remember to Remember, also known as vol. 2 of The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. This piece is called The Staff of Life.

Bread: Prime symbol. Try and find a good loaf. You can travel fifty thousand miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread. Americans don’t care about good bread. They are dying on inanition but they go on eating bread without substance, bread without flavor, bread without vitamins, bread without life. Why? Because the very core of life is contaminated. If they knew what good bread was they would not have such wonderful machines on which they lavish all their time, energy and affection. A plate of false teeth means much more to an American than a loaf of good bread. Here is the sequence: poor bread, bad teeth, indigestion, constipation, halitosis, sexual starvation, disease and accidents, the operating table, artificial limbs, spectacles, baldness, kidney and bladder trouble, neurosis, psychosis, schizophrenia, war and famine. Start with the American loaf of bread so beautifully wrapped in cellophane and you end up on the scrap heap at forty-five. The only place to find a good loaf of bread is in the ghettos. Wherever there is a foreign quarter there is apt to be good bread. Wherever there is a Jewish grocer or delicatessen you are almost certain to find an excellent loaf of bread. The dark Russian bread, light in weight, found only rarely on this huge continent, is the best bread of all. No vitamins have been injected into it by laboratory specialists in conformance with the latest food regulations. The Russian just naturally likes good bread, because he also likes caviar and vodka and other good things. Americans are whiskey, gin and beer drinkers who long ago lost their taste for food. And losing that they have also lost their taste for life. For enjoyment. For good conversation. For everything worthwhile, to put it briefly.

What do I find wrong with America? Everything. I begin at the beginning, with the staff of life: bread. If the bread is bad the whole life is bad. Bad? Rotten, I should say. Like that piece of bread only twenty-four hours old which is good for nothing except to fill up a hole. God for target practice maybe. Or shuttlecock and duffle board. Even soaked in urine it is unpalatable; even perverts shun it. Yet millions are wasted advertising it. Who are the men engaged in this wasteful pursuit? Drunkards and failures for the most part. Men who have prostituted their talents in order to help further the decay and dissolution of our glorious Republic.

1947. You’ll have to scour a second-hand bookshop this weekend and get lucky for the rest. Or wait for periodic snippets here. As always, love your neighbor, read your Miller.

Miller – Durrell letters

Henry Miller was one of the great letter writers of all time, both in prodigious volume and majesterial exposition. But in English novelist Lawrence Durrell, Miller had met his match. Miller and Durrell carried on a correspondence from the time just after they lived in Paris in the ’30’s to well into the 1960’s. Many of the letters have been published; the following is from the ill-titled Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller A Private Correspondence.

Spring 1944, Alexandria, Egypt

Dear Henry,

Yes, I got your letters…

Here we are sweltering in an atmosphere that demands a toast – great passions, short lives. Everything is worn thin as eggshell; it’s the fifth year now and the nervous breakdown is coming out into the open. Old women, ginger dons, nursing sisters begin to behave like bacchantes; they are moving in and out of nursing homes with a steady impetus. meanwhile we are crippled here by an anemia and an apathy and a censorship which prevents the least trace of the human voice – of any calibre. We exist on a machine-made diet of gun bomb and tank – backed up by the slogan.

The atmosphere in this delta is crackling like a Leyden jar. You see, in normal times all the local inhabitants spend six months in Europe a year, so they are as stale and beaten thin as the poor white collar man. The poetry I exude these days is dark grey and streaky, like bad bacon. But the atmosphere of sex and death is staggering in its intensity. Meanwhile the big shots come and go, seeing nothing, feeling nothing, in a money daydream; there is still butter and whisky and cafe viennois. A kind of diseased fat spreads over the faces and buttocks of the local populations, who have skimmed the grease off the war efforts in contracts and profiteering. No, I don’t think you would like it. First the steaming humid flatness – not a hill or mound anywhere – choked to bursting point with bones and crummy deposits of wiped out cultures. Then this smashed up broken down shabby Neapolitan town, with its Levantine mounds of houses peeling in the sun. A sea flat, dirty brown and waveless rubbing the port. Arabic, Coptic, Greek, Levant French; no music, no art, no real gaiety. A saturated middle European boredom laced with drink and Packards and beach-cabins. NO SUBJECT OF CONVERSATION EXCEPT MONEY. Even love is thought of in money terms. “You are getting on with her? She has ten thousand a year of her own.” Six hundred greaseball millionaires sweating in ther tarbushes and waiting for the next shot of root-hashish. And the shrieking personal unhappiness and loneliness showing in every face. No, if one could write a single line of anything that had a human smell to it here, one would be a genius. Add to all this a sort of maggot-dance of minor officual place hunting, a Florentine atmosphere of throat slitting and distrust, and you will have some idea of what anyone with a voice or tongue is up against. I am hoping the war will be over soon so I can quit; I’m glad of this little death for all the material it’s put in my way about people and affairs in general. But I’m worn thin with arse-licking and having my grammar corrected by sub-editors from the Bush Times in South America. Here in Alexandria though, I have my own office and almost no interference; so I can run things the way I like. You always used to laugh when I said I was an executive man, but I was right; my office runs like a top; and the people working for me LIKE it. The basic principe is that of the old blind pianist in Paris – remeber? Edgar’s friend Thibaud or some such name. ” Anything that needs effort to do is being done from the wrong centres; it is not worth doing.” Sometime I’ll tell you how I applied that to the running of an effortless speed organization.

How about a year in Poros now – baked hard rock and glittering sea; followed by autumn in Athens…? No more writing but lying about and taking a long myopic and unbiased view of the universe. Or do you prefer Savings Bonds, Maximum Employment, better plumbing and a prefabricated spiritual life in tune with the Stock Exchange graphs?

If you somehow haven’t read Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, you should be ashamed. And as always, love your neighbor, read your Miller.